How to Really Shop on a Budget

The Budget Fashionista’s Annual “Being Broke Ain’t Cute” Series features tips and advice to help you improve your personal financial health. For more personal finance information, please check out our Financial Health Series.

Anyone can be a great shopper—all it takes is a little training and a pocketful of coupons. Below are some great budget shopping tips to help you on your path to becoming a world-class budget shopper.

How to Shop on a Budget

1. Know what looks good on you. Just because it looks great in a magazine doesn’t mean it will look great on you. Be honest with yourself about your body. It will save you time and money.

2. Practice the Cost Per Wear. The price of an item, just reflects it’s price. The price of an item DOES NOT reflect it’s value. STOP and reread the previous sentence. You should base the value of an item, particularly in the case of shopping on a budget, on how much you will actually use the item. The Cost Per Wear ™ formula helps you assess this value through a very simple equation. Just divide the cost of the item by the number of times you will wear it in a given period. So a $100 shirt worn 20 times has a cost per wear How to Really Shop on a Budget of $5. The goal is to shoot for a CPW of less than $3.

The CPW is important because there’s a tendency for budget shoppers to focus only on the price of an item, which often leads to purchases based upon price (ie- wow this is so cheap) versus usefulness (wow I wear this everyday).

3. Leave the debit and credit cards at home. I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who views paying for purchases with plastic cards as not spending “real” money. Paying with cash gives you an instant visual indication of how much you’re spending.

4. Head to the outlet malls. Shopping at the outlets of your favorite stores and designers can save you a bundle. Some of my favorites are the Chelsea Premium Outlet Malls, Off Fifth (the Saks Fifth Avenue How to Really Shop on a Budget Outlet), the St. John Knit Outlet, the Donna Karan Outlet, and the Last Call Neiman Marcus Outlet.

5. Remember the 70/30 rule. Fashionistas with limited budgets should follow the 70/30 rule: 70% of your closet should be classic pieces, 30% trendy pieces. Go as cheap as possible on trendy items because they have a short closet lifespan; purchase these pieces at stores like H&M, Target, Forever 21, Wet Seal, Asos.com, Zara, Bluefly  How to Really Shop on a Budget, Urban Outfitters, etc. Go designer on classic pieces like black suits (Tahari, Donna Karan), coats (Burberry, MaxMara), evening (Armani, Tim and Linda Platt, Carmen Marc Valvo) and purses (Coach, Longchamp, Marc Jacobs).